Obama to make Mainer member of Cabinet

Posted Jan. 13, 2012, at 11:50 a.m.
Last modified Jan. 14, 2012, at 5:36 a.m.
President Barack Obama embraces Karen Mills, head of the Small Business Administration, after she introduced him before he spoke about health care reform during an event at the Portland Expo Center in Portland, Maine, last year.
Robert F. Bukaty | AP
President Barack Obama embraces Karen Mills, head of the Small Business Administration, after she introduced him before he spoke about health care reform during an event at the Portland Expo Center in Portland, Maine, last year.

President Barack Obama has elevated the position of Small Business Administration administrator — a post now held by Mainer Karen Mills — to a Cabinet-level position.

The move comes as part of a broad proposal by the administration to consolidate the business and trade operations in six federal areas: the Commerce Department’s core business and trade functions; the SBA; the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative; the Export-Import Bank; the Overseas Private Investment Corporation; and the Trade and Development Agency. The goal would be one agency designed to help businesses thrive.

Obama has asked Congress for the authority to reorganize the operations — authority past presidents have had. In the meantime, he has elevated the SBA position to a Cabinet post, said Jeff Zients, Office of Management and Budget director for management, in a Friday call with the media.

“So while we wait for Congress to act and pass consolidation authority, given the importance of small business to the economy, the president has elevated the Small Business Administration to Cabinet. Karen Mills — who is the current administrator — will join the president’s Cabinet,” said Zients, according to a transcript of the call. “And she will obviously be on the Cabinet with John Bryson, the secretary of Commerce, and the U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk.”

Sen. Olympia Snowe, who has pushed for moving the SBA administrator position back into the Cabinet since before Obama took over as president, praised the expected move in a Friday release.

“I was an early and ardent advocate for the administration to elevate the SBA administrator position to the Cabinet level since before President Obama took office because, given the central job-creation role small businesses play in our nation’s economy, it is absolutely essential the head of the SBA have a seat at the Cabinet table with the president,” said Snowe. “I’ve urged this change numerous times in personal conversations with the president, and as I wrote in a December 2008 letter to President-elect Obama, ‘this designation will send a clear signal that small business will drive our nation out of this recession.’”

Congressman Mike Michaud, D-Maine, agreed in a Friday statement.

“The voices of our small businesses need to be heard at the highest levels,” Michaud said. “This move is an important step in the right direction and will hopefully improve the attention our government pays to the needs of small businesses.”

Snowe, who is the ranking Republican on the Senate’s Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, said she believed Mills is “the one person in the administration who knows how to save and create jobs, based on her extensive private-sector experience and background.”

“I called her this morning to congratulate her following news reports of this action, and I could not be more pleased by this decision, as Maine and the nation will be well represented by Karen’s leadership,” Snowe said. “I am proud that Karen will now bring her pragmatic, reasoned voice to a seat at the Cabinet table, and wish her well in this critical endeavor.”

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, noted Friday that she was a former New England administrator for the SBA, and knew the value the SBA programs held for small businesses.

“Just this morning, I visited a growing small business, Maine Coast Co. in York, which had taken advantage of one of SBA’s loan guarantee programs to purchase new equipment and to expand its plant. SBA warrants Cabinet-level recognition to demonstrate the critical importance of small businesses to our economy, and having Maine’s Karen Mills at the table is a plus,” Collins said.

She added, however, that what would help small businesses even more was for the administration to not continue to “impose costly new regulations and propose higher taxes on our entrepreneurs. Such actions create burdens and uncertainty that discourage small businesses from creating jobs.”

Other Cabinet members include the vice president and the heads of 15 executive departments — the secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury, and Veterans Affairs, as well as the Attorney General.

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